Richard G. Petty, MD

The Status Syndrome

I have recently seen some reports in the media about a connection between money and longevity: the idea being that the more money you have, the longer you live. Which presumably means that Bill Gates will live forever. Sadly this link between wealth and longevity is a false extrapolation from some very old research. Yes, extreme poverty is associated with excess mortality, not only because of poor lifestyle and lack of access to medical screening and care, but also because adults who were of low birth weight are more likely to develop diabetes and hypertension. And people born into poverty are more likely to have been malnourished before birth, and therefore to be of low weight at birth. This relationship between low birth weight and subsequent disease is likely the result of incomplete development of the liver and kidneys before birth.

A famous study of British civil servants has indeed shown that people who work in more senior positions are more likely to live longer than people working in the lower ranks. But it has nothing to do with money. Once people have passed a certain critical material threshold, lifestyle factors have progressively less impact. There are still more smokers amongst manual workers and hours of hard work means that they have to eat high calorie high fat foods to be able t keep working, and we have not done a good job of showing people how easy it is to eat healthily on a budget.

Sir Michael Marmot is an outstanding epidemiologist working in London, who has spent three decades examining the health consequences of differences in social standing. He has discovered that there is a social gradient that predicts health outcomes: the lower a person’s social rank, the higher their risk for heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, accidents and many other health problems. Once people have passed a certain threshold of physical and material well-being, something else comes into play: other kinds of well-being that have a massive impact upon life. These are autonomy – how much control you have over your life – and opportunities for social engagement and participation. The psychological experience of inequality has profound effects on multiple body systems. Sir Michael has summarized a lot of his research in an eminently readable book entitled, appropriately, The Status Syndrome.

There is an interesting corollary of the Status Syndrome. In his book The Pecking Order, Dalton Conley presents interesting research that indicates that our level of success relative to our siblings is less the result of birth order or genetics and more the result how much family resources – time, energy, money and love – we received while growing up.

There’s not much that you can do about your birth order, but all this research has some important implications.

1. Once you have crossed a threshold that allows you access to nutritious food, exercise, stress management and health care, there is no longer any link between health and wealth. In fact, working and working to get more and more money is associated with increased mortality!

2. The amount of time, energy, money and love that the family is able to give to each child will help shape and structure their future life. That is a hugely important responsibility.

3. Ensure that you feel and know that you are autonomous: that you are in control of your life. I really urge you to work on this. One of the reasons for being concerned about the ever-increasing demands being made upon all of us is that it can make us feel out of control. I spend a great deal of time in Healing, Meaning and Purpose discussing and demonstrating techniques for taking back control of your life.

4. Are you socially engaged and participating in life? Are you doing something for your community or your church? How often do you meet new people and engage with them? Is there someone whom you haven’t seen for a while that really needs a call from you? Please do think about this: it’s not just about socializing; it’s about protecting your health and well-being, and the health and well-being of those around you.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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